Train Trip

The Engineer and I like trains, we’re known for it. ‘Another train journey?’ friends ask. And the answer is usually yes. This year’s epic marathon found us travelling from north to south in Australia, or as the locals say, from the Top End downwards. It’s about 2,000 miles and it took three nights and very nearly four days from departing from Darwin and arriving in Adelaide.

The Ghan Train was named after the cameleers who blazed the trail into the Red Centre of Australia in the 19th century. Many of them came from Pakistan although they were believed to be from Afghanistan and thus became known as (Af)Ghans.

 

The Ghan Expedition is really a cruise on wheels, with stops for excursions by coach, delicious meals, a well-stocked bar, and helpful, friendly staff. You do need to be ok about sleeping in bunks though, and I have no head for heights; luckily the Engineer has no nerves about anything and is fine about mountaineering to bed. (Pic – bedtime story)

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First stop was at Katherine, south of Darwin, where the temperature was 37C and rising so we were glad of a boat trip through the Nitmiluk Gorge, first walking through a grove of trees which had a sign saying: Don’t look up – can you guess why?

After that we stopped in Alice Springs which hadn’t seen a drop of rain since January – until the September evening when we went to an outdoor BBQ at the Telegraph Station there! Luckily it was just a shower. The final outing was to the underground city of Coober Pedy, famous for opal mines. A lot of the houses were a bit Hobbit-like, with chimneys sticking out of the rock and we went underground to check out an opal mine. Had lunch there too! For someone who is mildly claustrophobic I seem to have been down an awful lot of mines: a lead mine in Derbyshire, coal mine in France, silver mine in Austria, copper mine in Sweden and now an opal mine in Australia.nickydownanopalmine

It was a fabulous journey and I do it again only I’d have to mortgage the Engineer, and it wouldn’t be any fun without him! (Pic: Englishwoman abroad, complete with (M&S) pearls!)

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The House at Ladywell is out now and I survived an online book launch on Facebook. There are some 5* reviews already!  – , available in ebook and paperback http://amzn.to/2i7o2Z9

The perfect novel to curl up and read with a glass of mulled wine and a cat on your lap during those dark winter months…

Brilliant – the past and present are entwined and Freya uncovers her own mystery whilst delving into the history of the house.’

A very, very readable story.’

A real feel-good romantic story about a house and its history, Nicola Slade writes characters you instantly warm to. I liked the use of elements in local history to provide background to the story of the house – it feels as though one could go and look for an actual house.

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Armistice Day

A highlight – one of many – during our month-long Australian trip last month was a brief visit to Canberra’s Australian War Memorial. It’s an imposing building in extensive grounds and an amazing view into the city.

 We were there in the school holidays and it was very crowded; even so, it was very quiet indoors, a mixture of awe at the sheer volume of numbers killed, and reflection on their sacrifice. I was glad to see how many children were engrossed in the stories on display, people need to remember. Find out more:https://www.awm.gov.au/

I like sculpture and was impressed by this memorial to Private John Simpson who served at Gallipoli. Using one of the donkeys brought in for carrying water he transported wounded men under fire, day and night from the fighting in Monash Valley to the beach at Anzac Cove.  He was killed while carrying two wounded men on 19th May 1915 and buried on the beach at Hell Spit.

Here’s another animal memorial ‘Explosive Detection Dog and Handler Sculpture’ ‘In this sculpture I have sought to express the close bond that exists between dog and handler….’ (Artist Ewen Coats)

At the heart of the building is the Hall of Memory above the Pool of Reflection  and on either side, the lists of the fallen – endless lists you think at first, 102,000 names. One of the first names we saw as we slowly walked along and looked at the World War I memorials was a man called Slade and after that the Resident Engineer photographed them all. We found fourteen of them and wondered if they were relatives as we know at least one mid-19th century Slade went to Australia.

The Gallipoli Campaign was commemorated two years ago and the Australian and New Zealand soldiers’ part is well-documented, and rightly so.What I hadn’t really taken on board is that although the campaign is linked to the Anzacs in the public mind, just how many men died in total.

Gallipoli casualties (not including illness)
Dead Wounded Missing
or
POW
Total
Ottoman
Empire
56,643 97,007 11,178 164,828
United Kingdom 34,072 78,520 7,654 120,246
France 9,798 17,371 27,169
Australia 8,709 19,441 28,150
New Zealand 2,721 4,752 7,473
British India 1,358 3,421 4,779
Newfoundland 49 93 142
Total Allies 56,707 123,598 7,654 187,95

When I was a child I was very much aware of WWI because I had great-aunts galore who remembered it vividly. The story that stays in my memory is of my favourite great-aunt who, in 1916, was lying awake at night with her very new fifth child when she looked up and saw her eldest son, Clive, standing at the end of the bed. He had lied about his age and enlisted when he was sixteen and when she saw him she knew what it meant. When the telegram arrived he was still not quite eighteen.

I thought about Aunt Liz and Clive at the AWM when they played someone singing Waltzing Matilda and that got to me. It’s a song I love and I always cry when I hear it, remembering that it’s the theme music for ‘On The Beach’, the film of Nevil Shute’s post-apocalyptic novel – still the best film in this genre. Here’s the original trailer – worth watching. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAwI5ONywME

 

Planes and trains – and jet lag!

Warning* This is one of those ‘What I did on my holidays’ posts!

Since our son and his family moved to Sydney almost seven years ago we’ve managed to visit them three times and they’ve been home once.

The three little English boys are now large Aussies!Our latest trip was a month, from mid-September to mid-October and taking in a stopover in Hong Kong – an evening boat trip here

We spent time with the family, catching up with news and revisiting favourite places around Sydney and then did a trip to Darwin to catch the fabulous Ghan Expedition – a three night/four day train ride from The Top End right down to Adelaide in South Australia. Think Downton Abbey on wheels!

We followed that with a road trip along the coast from Melbourne to Jervis Bay, three hours south of Sydney where we met up with the family for a long weekend in a holiday house five minutes’ walk from a perfect, unspoilt beach then back to Sydney for more time with the troops and home via another stopover in Vancouver. (Hence the jet lag; we ended up going right round the world and that made the tiredness worse than when we’ve gone back the way we came!)

I plan to blog and tweet about it all in instalments but I’m still zonking out mid-evening but wide awake at three a.m. It’s because we crossed an awful lot of time zones, apparently! A lot of the time I feel as though I’m moving very slowly through treacle!

I did wake up though, when I had a nice surprise at home in the shape of a box of paperbacks of The House at Ladywell – out now just in time for Christmas! The ebook launch date is 14th November – tell your friends!  Buy it here – http://amzn.to/2i7o2Z9

Rowans and Rocks

I’m delighted with the newly-revealed cover for ‘The House at Ladywell’ – a stunning image of a wreath of rowan leaves and berries, very simple and bold and very relevant to the story. 

‘The House at Ladywell’ will be published on 14th November by Crooked Cat Books.

This is what it’s about: ‘A hare carved in stone and the scent of flowers in a house full of echoes – can Freya’s inheritance help her leave the past behind?’

As you can see on the cover I’m lucky enough to have a great quote from Sally Zigmond, well-known historical author (‘Hope Against Hope‘), editor and reviewer. She says: ‘An enchanting blend of mystery, history, romance and folklore’ – which sums the book up pretty neatly!

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In other news, my art exhibition ended today so the Engineer and I have dismantled it and brought the remaining paintings home. The framed books are marching back up the wall of the staircase and I’m finally relaxing. I sold three paintings on the night and another two during the month when two separate visitors to the cinema each spotted a painting the liked and contacted me. I met them in the gallery café and we did the deal! They both liked my landscapes, which is interesting and gratifying, because they’re my latest experiment in style. More of that, I think!

This is the most recent painting that sold – ‘Sea Pinks on the Rocks’ (The frame was white, not slightly pink as the photo suggests!)

Books & Pictures

When my first book, Scuba Dancing, was published, the Resident Engineer decided it would be nice to frame it and hang it in the hall – where it was much admired! Now there are seven framed books all ascending the staircase wall and room for more. Back in October, my youngest suggested I should have an exhibition at the Harbour Lights Cinema on the waterfront in Southampton’s Ocean Village. Her idea was to move the books from our hall and hang them in the cinema’s gallery cafe, adding some paintings as well.

Pictures of some of the lovely people who came to the ‘do’:

Olivia, whose idea it was

Our idea was that we’d have a bit of a ‘do’ on the Opening Night, which happened to be Wednesday, 2nd August so I duly invited family and friends – only to realise we’d chosen the wettest day and evening since Noah set out in the Ark.

Fellow Deadly Dame, lovely Charlie Cochrane, who swam in from Romsey

Daughter Amelia and my nice artist friends

It was fun and I’m so grateful to the people who braved the really awful weather to come!

Books, smells, castles and dead kings

A couple of weeks ago I attended the 2017 conference of the Romantic Novelists’ Association which was held at Harper Adams University, originally an agricultural college. The first thing you realise as you arrive by taxi is that there are pigs somewhere near! The Resident Engineer comes from farming folk and I loved everything about Harper Adams, including the fact that my sinuses have never been so thoroughly healthily scoured! The food – grown and raised on the farm – was absolutely delicious.

We weren’t there just to eat however and the talks I attended were varied and interesting, from a discussion on where the publishing industry is heading, to writing a screenplay (illustrated with shots of David Tennant in Broadchurch – not a hardship, that), to several talks on how to cope with Social Media. Something I’m pretty useless at and Must Try Harder. (Pic above, by John Jackson, shows the opening talk with me, bottom right, making notes.) And a photo of David Tennant – and why not?

A highlight was meeting up with fellow authors from my new publisher, Crooked Cat Books. Here: John Jackson, Sue Barnard, me looking scruffy, and Lynn Forth. (Another of John’s photos)The last talk, on the Sunday afternoon, was me talking about changing from writing romantic comedy to writing cosy mysteries. The audience laughed in the right places, made notes, and clapped at the end – result! and that was it for another conference. Always good fun and well worth attending.

The Resident Engineer picked me up and we set off for Ludlow which is where we saw the castle in the title of this post:And on the way home we dropped in to say hello to my favourite dead king of all – and here he is:

Writing and talking, what else?

First of all – the book. ‘The House at Ladywell’ now has a date, Tuesday, 14th November – which is when Crooked Cat Books will publish it simultaneously as an ebook and a paperback. This really, really exciting! It’s a contemporary romantic novel with historical interludes, quite a change for me! Here’s a taster…

‘A hare carved in stone and the scent of flowers in a house full of echoes – can Freya’s inheritance help her leave the past behind


And no, the house in the photo has nothing to do with my fictitious house apart from being a Tudor house in Hampshire (this one’s a pub that’s being revamped). My ‘real’ Tudor house is, like my characters, a patchwork of reality and fiction. And set in a different version of Romsey! Below is the Old Manor House in Romsey which is now a restaurant but which is about the right age for ‘my’ house.

Details of the cover and more info about the book and – most important of all – how to buy it! will be forthcoming in the early autumn. There are several running themes in this book: rowan trees, sacred springs, the scent of flowers, and hares – which have always fascinated me and which I paint occasionally. Here’s one I did earlier!

Secondly – the talk. Sunday, 16th July at the Romantic Novelists’ Association 2017 Conference at Harper Adams University, Telford, Shropshire.

The talk – From Kissing to Killing – is about changing over from writing romantic novels to writing murder mysteries and this is what the programme says about me! ‘Why do romantic novelists so often shine at writing mysteries? Having made the leap (more of a sidle) herself, Nicola Slade discusses what a cosy mystery actually is, some statistics about real-life murders and examples of fictional ones, and she also talks about other romantic novelists who’ve gone over to the dark side…’          One very well-known crime writer also wrote romantic novels under the name of Mary Westmacott – and if it’s good enough for Agatha, it’s certainly good enough for me!

 

 

The House at Ladywell

Would you fall in love at first sight – with a house?

When my second Harriet Quigley mystery was published, blogger Geranium Cat said, in what is still my favourite review: ‘Not listed in the Dramatis Personae at the start of A Crowded Coffin is the Attlin family’s farmhouse, although you feel it should be there; once known as the Angel House, Locksley Farm Place dates back centuries, perhaps to a Roman villa on the same site. The author conveys the sense of the house’s age and antiquity seamlessly… and the reader is left with an impression of great solidity and warmth which permeates the whole book…’

It’s such a perceptive comment and I hope readers will feel the same about this new book because – in The House at Ladywell – the house is clearly the main character. We first ‘meet’ it when Freya, the protagonist, goes to view her inheritance and falls head-over-heels in love with the house. As she settles in the reader gradually learns the history of both the house and the family down through the ages.

I’m delighted to be able to say that I’ve now signed a contract with Crooked Cat Books and they will publish The House at Ladywell as an ebook in the autumn, to be followed by the paperback.

For a change, this book isn’t set in Winchester but not far away in my fictitious town of Ramalley, the small market town where my first published novel, Scuba Dancing, was set. It’s not a follow-up but the town is recognisably the same. It’s also recognisable to sharp-eyed readers who contacted me when Scuba Dancing came out and said, ‘It’s Romsey, isn’t it?’ Of course it is – but it’s Romsey with added extras!

I usually have a picture of the characters inside my head and for some reason Richard Armitage popped up whenever I wrote about Patrick, the contemporary hero. I can’t imagine why but it’s true: that’s exactly how I see him!  (And because one of the historical ‘echoes’ in this book involves the Battle of Waterloo, here’s a gratuitous photo of Sean Bean as Lt Richard Sharpe. And why not?)

In case you’d like to see some of the other inspirations for this book, here’s my Pinterest board for The House at Ladywell. https://uk.pinterest.com/nicola8703/the-house-at-ladywell/I  (Oops, doesn’t seem to work, but here’s my Pinterest account and you’ll find the Board for The House at Ladywell there: https://uk.pinterest.com/nicola8703)

Fun in February

I haven’t been idle in February!  On 15th February I judged a short story competition for the Southampton Writers’ Circle and had a very nice evening with them. There were some intriguing pieces of writing and I found it hard to decide between the top three so I was glad to find I could award Winner, Highly Commended and Commended!

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17th February I turned up on this blog  Bloggers come up with questions that make you stop and think just why you like this, or do that, so it’s always an interesting exercise.novelist.http://lifeofanerdishmum.blogspot.co.uk/2017/02/getting-to-knownicola-slade.html?m=1

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 On Getting To Know… today I am welcoming author of the Harriet Quigley Mysteries and Charlotte Richmond Investigates series, Nicola Slade.

You originally wrote a romantic comedy when changing from children’s book to adult books, but you now write two mystery series. What was it that drew you to this genre and prompted you to make the change?

My mother and grandmother were voracious readers so I was always surrounded by books.  I was brought up on mostly Victorian novels and the classic mysteries of the Golden Age: Margery Allingham, Patricia Wentworth, Dorothy L Sayers and to a lesser degree Agatha Christie. It’s the puzzle element that appeals to me in those classic mysteries – who did it, why and how – and working through the various suspects to find the murderer. I love that aspect as a reader and as a writer.

Do you have a favourite character that you have written so far?

My Victorian sleuth, Charlotte Richmond, is my favourite. I’m very fond of Harriet Quigley, my contemporary retired headmistress sleuth but she’s slightly scary after her years as a top headmistress and is comfortable in her own skin. Charlotte is much more vulnerable and has to contend with the problems of being a young widow in the 1850s as well as with the difficulties that arise in a murder case. She has a slightly shady background and comes from Australia, which makes her a curiosity in mid-Victorian England. I’m passionate about history and it’s certainly much easier to set a mystery before the days of forensic science, fingerprints and the internet!

Do you have a set routine or schedule that you like to follow when you’re writing?

Not really, it’s more a case of ‘when the spirit moves me’. I do tend to write mid-morning to mid-afternoon, rather than the classic thing of dashing off a thousand words by breakfast time! Sometimes I’ll lose myself in the story though, and emerge dazed after a long writing session.

When you’re not writing, what would we find you doing?

Chatting and meeting friends is what my family would say! And poking in charity shops and second hand bookshops because a friend and I were antiques dealers in a small way, some years ago, and the urge to check out the date stamp or maker’s mark never leaves you. I love going to castles and stately homes and I read a lot, as well as painting.

You are also an artist and do some wonderful paintings (I love your hares, in particular Hare Flight). Are you a natural artist or is something that you worked on to become?

Thank you! I have a ‘thing’ about painting hares! I did Art at O Level and could always draw, but it wasn’t till my children were older that I started going to art classes. When the teacher retired we set up our own art workshop and hold an exhibition every year. I’m strictly amateur but it’s fun to do and our group is now quite well-known locally. My latest mystery ‘The Art of Murder’ is about an art group, but not – I hasten to add – about the one I belong to!

Have you always known that you wanted to be an author?

I think I was about six when I understood that books came out of people’s heads and decided that’s what I wanted to do. I had some children’s short stories published in my early twenties, then put my creative energies into raising a family, after which I wrote stories for women’s magazines until my first novel, Scuba Dancing, was published.

Harriet Quigley is an older main character than in a lot of books, which is good to see. What was the reason behind choosing to write an older character?

It all stems from my first publisher, Transita Ltd, who published Scuba Dancing. They featured older heroines – from forty-five and upwards and Harriet arose from that idea. The classic lady sleuth tends to be ‘of a certain age’, Miss Marple and Miss Silver, for example, and if you think about it, an older woman is likely to have more time to observe and investigate than if she’s holding down a full-time job. My Victorian heroine, Charlotte, has time on her hands because she’s a lady, but she does have other restrictions – it’s not easy to run away if you’re wearing a crinoline!

You enjoy travelling and have lived in some lovely places, do you have a favourite place that you have visited?

We had a few days in Fiji that were magical – coral islands, palm trees and so on, I’d love to go back one day. Our son and his family live in Sydney and we did a trip to Tasmania which was fabulous; besides seeing the family, Australia has the added bonus of letting me do research for my Australian heroine!

Do you have a favourite author?

I love the novels of Charlotte Yonge, a Victorian best-seller, and I’m particularly fond of her novel ‘The Pillars of the House’. I also love Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels and recently, I’ve discovered Jodi Taylor’s The Chronicles of St Mary’s books and can’t wait to read the next.

What can we look forward to from you in the future?

My previous publisher ceased trading a year ago so I’ve been wondering which direction I should take. I’m currently revising a contemporary novel which has historical echoes, a kind of time-slip novel, and I’m about to send it to my agent. Besides that, I’m two-thirds of the way into a cosy mystery set in 1918 which is great fun to write, though whether a publisher would like it remains to be seen. There’s always self-publishing which is something I might explore in the future.

Thank you so much to Nicola for taking the time to answer all my questions, it’s been wonderful having her on my blog today.

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18th February saw the Deadly Dames invade Portsmouth in their latest extravaganza: Nemesis with Knitting Needles – discussing whether the female of the (detective) species really is more deadly than the male. http://promotingcrime.blogspot.co.uk/2017/02/the-deadly-dames-at-portsmouth-bookfest.html (I really, really must learn not to freeze in terror when I see a camera!)portsmouth-2017-dd-group

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Finally, earlier in the month the Resident Engineer and I escaped to the Mediterranean for a week in Majorca, which is where we spent our honeymoon a very long time ago. The place had changed a bit and the weather back then, which was in January, was a bit less spectacular as this time, although it was 20 degrees on the coast, we actually had one day of snow in the Tramontana Mountains.( Proof below! It didn’t last long and the locals claimed it was one of only two days in February that usually has snow.)

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Winter Weather, Then and Now

I’ve shamefully neglected my blog, mainly because I tend to hibernate during January, huddling indoors and wishing I was somewhere warm; I only emerge when I need to go shopping for food. Last January though, we went to Liverpool for what I insisted on calling a romantic weekend though the Resident Engineer said it was a research trip to the archive of the Maritime Museum to check out a 1950s circuit diagram for an electric pump made by a long-defunct company. I went along for the ride but he does this kind of thing for fun and this was to do with one of the charities he volunteers for – in this case the Edwardian waterworks. (Photo Liver Bird, Wikipaedia)

liver_bird_liverpoolI’d only been to Liverpool once, back in the 70s when we had two small children and the Engineer did a six month stint of working during the week in Liverpool. In the summer holidays his boss suggested we should all go – I think it was his idea of a reward for me for not making a fuss! I don’t remember much about it but I do remember hauling a 5 year old and a 3 year old round Speke Hall because I still hadn’t cottoned on to the fact that a passion for old houses doesn’t gel with having small children. The Safari Park was a better bet.

Last year’s trip was great. Our hotel was a monument to decayed grandeur. Our room was 30’ long by 20’ wide (I measured it) with an imposing fireplace and walls painted in the pink of old ladies’ corsets, picked out with gold twiddly bits. There was a huge radiator that only came on for a couple of hours in the early evening and the bathroom was large and chilly, with an avocado bath and with green Formica surrounding the wash-basin. There was no heating in there and you could perch frostily on the loo and hear the wind howling through the secondary glazing. However, I loved the place and the food was excellent. Liverpool was lovely too, and I completely fell for the Maritime Museum so we had coffee and lunch there before doing the Ferry Cross the Mersey. Guess what tune they played on a continuous loop? (Photo: Mersey ferry, Wikipaedia)mersey-ferry

To take my mind off winter weather I’ve been checking out the kind of weather our ancestors had to endure, courtesy of http://booty.org.uk/booty.weather/climate/wxevents.htm (A brilliant site.)

AD341: Britain: SNOW – up to 15 feet deep lay 6 weeks.

AD1149/50: Severe winter: the first authentic report of the Thames being frozen solid – the frost lasted from December to March and the frozen river was crossed on foot and on horseback. Very intense cold began 10th December 1149 and continued until (at least) February 19th 1150.The Thames was frozen over at London Bridge and supported loaded wagons. (Pic. this later frost fair in the 1680s. Wiki pic)frostfair

AD1564/65: Severe, prolonged frost (set in 7th December 1564). The court of Elizabeth I indulged in sports on the ice at Westminster. Football & other games were also played on the ice. (In the depths of the Little Ice Age, this would not have been too unusual; the reason the event is noted is because the Queen & Court were involved: it would have been an impressive sight!) Pic: Queen Elizabeth too busy at her coronation to think about skating. Wikielizabeth_i_in_coronation_robes

1946/47 – in living memory this one: ‘Mean temperature below 0 degC for 9 weeks. Bulldozers were diverted from bomb clearance to snow clearance. Ice-breakers had to be used in the River Medway  & ice floes were reported in the lower Thames & its Estuary. There were severe losses to agriculture; 2 million sheep died, and the frosts destroyed much of the late potato crop. The aftermath was equally severe, with widespread burst pipes, local flooding as snow melted: winter of extreme misery.’

And now for something not actually very different at all…

Eye witness weather history comes from ‘Small Talk at Wreyland’ 1st ed 1918, by Cecil Torr who quotes from his father’s Victorian diaries. (Wreyland is in Devonshire).

‘Like many others of his time my grandfather was certain that the climate had improved and he thought he saw the cause. He writes to my father on 9th March 1845: Until within the last twenty years our winters were much colder than since, but I never knew such hard freezing as this.

22nd December 1850 attributing the mild weather to ‘the better stage of cultivation of the land draining off the cold stagnant waters that lay about in all directions in my youth.’

‘2nd February 1851: ‘Not a flake of snow fell on the Forest of Dartmoor in the month of January, not the oldest man living on the Moor recollects the like before.’

‘2nd March 1862: The old people say there never was a February without snow.

Finally, some more (almost) eye-witness testimony for history buffs. Cecil Torr (1857-1928) says his father took him as a child to call on a very old man who ‘gave me an account of the beheading of King Charles I as he heard it from somebody who was an eye-witness.’ (Engraving: Charles I execution. Wikipaedia)execution_of_king_charles_i_from_npg

Another time young Cecil visited yet another elderly gent ‘whose great-aunt was told by an elderly lady that she had witnessed the Fire of London when she was about ten years old.’ (Pic: Great Fire of London, Wikipaedia)

The past may be another country but most years you’d need your hat, scarf, gloves and wellies to go there.